Densil-Williams | The Lorenz Curve of Education in Jamaica Requires a Nuanced Analysis | Comment


Orlando Patterson and his team have produced a tome on the education sector in Jamaica, which should become required reading for anyone involved in the administration of education. Although the vast majority of the findings are not new and date back to the 2004 ROSE report led by the late Dr. Rae Davis, Patterson’s team rekindles a fundamental debate in the development of our country, namely the role of education in development treat.

The report, however, should be read in conjunction with another insightful article by the World Bank Group/UNICEF that analyzed public spending in the education sector in Jamaica. Both reports provide important factual foundations for designing the future of the education system in Jamaica.


The Patterson report and the World Bank/UNICEF report, while detailed and comprehensive, told us nothing new. They both point to an education system with pockets of success, but primarily characterized by inefficiency, lack of accountability and poor outcomes at the end of the education lifecycle for our learners.

Simply put, the reports tell us that we have an education architecture that is not fit for the 21st century, fueled by the fourth industrial revolution where knowledge will be the main source of competitive advantage, especially for small Resource-poor states like those in the Caribbean.

To be globally competitive in the emerging global world powered by intelligent automation, small countries like Jamaica will need to operate their education sector at the highest level of efficiency and competitiveness; otherwise, they will be left behind. One of the items on the agenda is to resolve funding issues.


Without a properly funded education sector, Jamaica will not be a competitive workforce for the global economic space of the 21st century. Both reports seem to land in the same space when it comes to funding. They noted that public spending on education is on par with spending in some of the best places with superb education systems, namely Finland and Estonia. They argue that Jamaica’s education spending as a percentage of GDP is within the range of highly developed OECD countries and, in some cases, better than some of these countries.

Specifically, the World Bank and UNICEF report notes that Jamaica spends 5.2% of its GDP on education, which is in line with international best practice and slightly above the average of 4.9%. for small Caribbean states. However, they argue that while expenditures are comparable, the results for Jamaica do not reflect the level of expenditures. Simply put, Jamaica is not getting its money’s worth from its education spending.


Above all, the reports seem to assert that, to get value for money, a reallocation of education spending is necessary. The World Bank/UNICEF report notes that the distribution of expenditure by level of household consumption per capita shows that the poorest population benefits more than the richest from public investments in early childhood and early childhood education. primary education. Furthermore, he noted that secondary education is poverty neutral, as there is an equal proportion of students from lower and higher socio-economic quintiles in public schools. Critically, he says, spending on higher education is regressive because students from higher socioeconomic quintiles are overrepresented in higher education institutions.

Looking at Jamaica’s Lorenz Curve, which shows how spending is distributed across socio-economic groups, both reports advocate a reallocation of spending from higher education to early childhood education, in order to achieve a more equitable and efficient allocation of public resources in Jamaica’s education sector. .


Fundamentally, the reassignment narrative is very dangerous for Jamaica, and for any developing country for that matter. Today, post-secondary education is even more relevant to advancing the human capital development of countries like Jamaica, to make it more globally competitive. As such, we should not talk about reducing access.

None of the OECD countries, which the reports have so gleefully touted as Jamaica’s comparators, has achieved these levels of economic development without significant investment in post-secondary education. For despite the pro-poor narrative of early childhood and secondary spending, the fact is that in today’s world the skills needed to be competitive are not honed at the primary and secondary levels of society. education value chain. These are advanced and performed at the tertiary level.

Jamaica therefore cannot make the mistake of abandoning the financing of its tertiary sector because a few rich people profit from the expenses. Because, if the masses cannot access post-secondary education, we will have a labor force made up of low skills, low wages and low added value. This therefore means that the quality of life of the majority will not change.


Given the budgetary constraints, choices on the destination of expenditure will have to be made. Financing education in its entirety should be a priority for the next two decades, in order to increase access and improve learning outcomes. To address the pro-poor narrative, a more nuanced analysis of the Lorenz curve should be done at the tertiary level.

Using sophisticated data mining tools and algorithms, administrators should be able to tell how spending is being directed to ensure the needy get it and allow the wealthy to pay their way. . Reducing is not the solution. More nuanced analyzes are needed as we consider how to implement the recommendations of these reports.


The Patterson report, impatient with the sector’s reform implementation deficit, calls for an EPOC-style commission to oversee the implementation of its report’s recommendations. The Economic Program Oversight Committee (EPOC) is credited with bringing order to Jamaica’s economic management. It seems that the replication of this institutional architecture in other sectors in difficulty is considered as a model.

Unfortunately, I don’t think EPOC-style management will have the same success in education as it does in economics. While I have every confidence in Dr Stokes’ ability to deliver, my sense tells me that EPOC replicated in education will have the same level of success as the Economic Growth Council, when it launched its appeal rallying five out of four to drive economic growth in Jamaica five years ago.

I say this because the problems that need to be solved in the field of education are more at the operational level than at the political level. Therefore, a first solution is to have strong principals as well as strong executive leadership in schools, excellent school boards empowered to hold principals and leaders accountable, and a decentralized structure where regional education bodies can make decisions more quickly and not be encumbered by bureaucracy. from the central Ministry of Education.

Critically, the sector must urgently address senior management hiring practices in schools, the appointment of school boards, and the design of relevant accountability frameworks to hold leaders accountable for their management and reward where the reward is deserved and dislocate them where the performance falls short. Standards. If the Stokes commission cannot do that, it will not succeed.

Densil Williams is Professor of International Business at the University of the West Indies. Send your comments to [email protected]


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